“The only reason I’m still here is because I love the game. Boxing has been one of the biggest blessings in my life directly from God. With that being said, it’s been one of the biggest heartbreakers in my life, too. To be in love with this game, it’s definitely not for the weak. You gotta have tough skin, you gotta have heart, love, and dedication because this game will chew you up and spit you out.”
The journey from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, spans a sizzling 578 miles. With searing temperatures and reliably uncomfortable seating, the bus journey takes at least 10 hours, with multiple stops, passenger drop-offs and pick-ups, and almost certain, unruly traffic jams. Travelling through Mexico in 2009 wasn’t exactly pleasant, but for Minessa Trout it wasn’t optional. Her son was fighting in the Coliseo Centenario and the long-time boxing fan wouldn’t miss it, despite her grimaces and periods spent selectively peering through cracks in her fingers.
“She took buses to see me fight down in Mexico,” explained loving, grateful son, and former WBA 154lbs world champion Austin Trout (33-5-1, 18 KOs). “This is when there was a huge cartel war going on, but my mother didn’t care. She said, ‘I’m from Brooklyn, I lived there in the 70s and the 80s, I ain’t scared of no cartel. I’m gonna see my son fight’. I always thought, her son being a boxer and her being this big boxing fan, she’s loving this. But just recently, I found out my mother can’t wait for me to retire.
“She said: ‘I can’t wait for that’. I was like, ‘Shit, you’ll have to wait a bit longer’. I’m not trying to prolong it; I’m keeping my ear to the ground and as soon as I’m physically or mentally not able to do this anymore, I’ll hang them up. I guess it’s a good question, right: what am I trying to do? I’m trying to win another world title. That’s the only reason why I’d be doing this. I love the game, I love boxing, but I’m trying to take it to the top again. If it’s not possible to win another world title, I guarantee you I’m gonna win something! I’m gonna get real close, and I’m gonna do a lot more than people think. They didn’t think I was gonna become a world champion in the first place; they didn’t think I’d become national champion.”
I told Trout that in my years spent interviewing fighters, I’d come to understand they always want more; they always believe they can win another world title, or multiple, despite the younger, fresher men currently dominating the sport and the stories of George Foreman or Bernard Hopkins becoming further distant memories. But Trout didn’t sound like those other fighters, clinging on to the flashing lights and raucous noise of their prime; he sounded intelligent, realistic, and still razor sharp.
Aged 35, ‘No Doubt’ Trout now stands dressed in Arabic robes, smiling, and enjoying the build-up to his bout this Friday, ominously dated the 13th. “That’s crazy – I didn’t even realise that” he laughed, warning off bad omens and preferring to focus positively on the task at hand. He’s in Dubai for the first time when we catch up, adjusting to his new time zone and monitoring his weight, which he explains is “already down”. His bout this Friday sees him tackle Alejandro Davila, a capable and worthy Mexican opponent who has only lost twice, brought to the Middle East to facilitate another of the sport’s rebirths.
“It’s beautiful here, this is my first time here and I’m loving it,” explains the Las Cruces native. “You know, it’s been awesome. The people can really make or break a place and the people here are beautiful, the landscape is beautiful; I’m really enjoying my time here. The prep’ has been great, the hard work is done. It’s just maintenance right now. All that’s left to do now is just fight. I don’t believe [the travel] has changed anything. Thank god I had a good amateur experience where they took us all over the world, so the travel, we came here early so we could adjust to the time zone. That’s probably the biggest hurdle, the jet lag – I’m almost there.”
The Legacy Boxing card, set to be hosted in The Palm Hotel, has flown under the radar of most American boxing outlets, with brief, light-heavyweight fringe contender Anthony Sims Jr also featuring. But it provides both men the platform to rebuild in the shadows of an often cruel, unforgiving sport. Trout knows that and is thankful for the chance to express himself, fighting with an unfamiliar regularity: “I want to go out there, have fun, make a statement, and try to get in the mix again. I am 35 but I believe I’ve been blessed. I didn’t look at it as a blessing at first, I was very upset about it, but the last five years of my career and during the last five fights, I’ve had about five years of lay-offs. It’s a killer.”
“I’ve come back to fight killers with no tune-ups in the past, so, in my own hands with the right activity, the best of me is yet to be seen. That whole time, there were no injuries, [it was] all politics. The first long lay-off I had was right before I fought for the world title; I was off for like 18 months. And that was because the WBA prohibited me from fighting – they told me I’d lose my No.1 spot, basically. It’s always politics. But I don’t know, I don’t care… I’m here, I’m happy and I’m busy now.”
Trout’s mother, Minessa, may have been from Brooklyn, but it wasn’t what she wanted for her own family. That concrete jungle, surrounded by trouble and struggle, would have left the door to a life of crime slightly ajar for young Austin; and that wasn’t something the single parent was prepared to risk. It meant life in Las Cruces was quieter, so quiet in fact that Trout never knew the area had its own boxing gym until he was 10-years old. After trying his hand at multiple sports and discovering he was “too small and too slow,” boxing welcomed him with open arms (and a stiff jab to the face.)
“I remember I was scared to death when that bell rang for the first time. It was kinda just ‘Get out there and start punching!’ After the first blow – that’s what I tell everybody – after that first punch, the nerves just all go away because that fight or flight mode is activated and running its options. You just gotta fight. That’s why I feel like everybody should do some kind of boxing because you never know what you’re made of until you get in a fight. I like other sports, I liked playing them and I tried them all. I had heart, I hustled, but when I found out we had a gym nearby, I thought, huh. ‘You gotta put me in there, ma, this is for me’. It was like love at first sight.”
Trout had a stellar amateur career, with over 160 victories to his name, and interest from some of the top managers and promoters in the sport. He signed with Bob Spagnola, whom he described as a “father figure” throughout his career at the top table: “I’m coming from the class of 2004, you know, Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell. And that was just after 2000, when they were giving a big signing bonus to any Olympian. I believe an Olympian ended up going to jail and ruined all of that $1.5million, so they stopped giving out that kinda money. Andre Ward, he only got $100,000 signing bonus. So, when I got my $50,000 signing bonus to go with Bob, it was a big deal. Shout out to Bob Spagnola, he really took care of me; that man would give me his kidney right now if I needed it.”
That professional career – after visits to Mexico as-and-when required – gathered pace, and the New Mexico fighter became a household name in the 2010-2015 era. He captured his WBA world title after defeating Delvin Rodriguez (W12) and followed that up with a mammoth points victory over Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto that completely cemented his place at the upper rungs of the 154-pound ladder. But then came the fall; then came murderer’s row and a run of opponents that bring the phrase ‘thrown to the wolves’ to mind. Promoter Al Haymon was looking for big, headline fights, and Trout happily obliged whenever contacted.
He fought Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, Erislandy Lara, Jermall and Jermell Charlo and Jarrett Hurd, losing all contests across a stop-start five-year period. He wasn’t supposed to win those fights – but he never made it easy. Trout, reflecting on his most important nights, confirmed: “Absolutely, those were the biggest things that I’ve been a part of and at the time, they were some of the biggest events of the year. I’m always looking for the next, looking for the next, but it’s good to look back and appreciate where you’ve been. As far as life landmarks, those were huge for me, and they definitely lived up to the hype. Absolutely.
“You go from being nameless to everybody knowing your name. But I definitely didn’t let it change me; I have a very humble demeanour and I wanted to keep it that way. I was blessed to be around some humble champions like Shane Mosley, and I was definitely like ‘I wanna be like this guy’. So, I kept it in the back of my mind that: they’re not gonna love you forever, so while you’re there, while they’re giving you their love, you better make the most of it. I feel like if I keep that attitude, then they will love me forever, so I’m always trying to give my time to the fans.”
He told me that after hearing stories of Muhammad Ali performing magic tricks for his adoring fans, he too wanted to learn magic, offering shards of himself despite recently exiting the arena cloaked in disappointment. Trout never shies away from a picture, an autograph, a conversation. I wondered how many of those he’d encounter while wondering the streets of Dubai or entering The Palm this Friday.
Before our phone call, I’d managed to dig out an interview Trout conducted 12 years ago, where he spoke of performing at the highest level for his children, the first of which he’d had aged just 16. They are now grown up, young women, excelling academically and allowing their father to wax lyrical of their potential. Trout tells me they are all future presidents or CEOs, but that he might have to sit them down for a chat.
“To them, I’m just ‘dad’. I need to have a good talk with them and see how they feel about it all; is there any pressure on them? They’re all good kids. They’re gonna do great things in life. I always tell ‘em, ‘Y’all are way smarter than me, you’re gonna do great things, the only thing I have that you guys don’t is a better work ethic’. But they can change that. All those things you can’t change, they got them already.”
“I already know it’s gonna be hard,” Trout answers, without skipping a beat when asked about eventually walking away from prize fighting. “I know I’m gonna see somebody up there [fighting] and I’ll think, ‘I can beat him’. Once I make that decision, I’m gonna be loyal to that decision and I’ll probably stick with it, so I don’t put my family through nothing. The family goes through a lot – boxing is very much a lonely sport. You’re doing everything by yourself, nobody can understand. But at the same time, my family goes through a lot because I’m always gone, training or fighting, and I don’t wanna put them through that. When I decide to hang ‘em up, I’m gonna be there for my family and I’m gonna stop putting them through this rollercoaster of emotions because they’re right there with me.”
When. When is enough truly enough? How do his family feel about his continued journey to the edge of success? Those questions – at least for now – remain unanswered.
In that same interview from 2009, Trout confessed to a love of video games, and strangely, mathematics. This was before battling Canelo and Cotto, before lawsuits filed against former promoters and long before flying to the opposite side of the world for a second (third, fourth or fifth) chance, so I wondered, did calculus still hold his interest?
“I’m still a math-head. I didn’t struggle with school, but I definitely enjoyed maths and science the most and the reason was, the answer you’re looking for can be figured out if you follow the rules. In English, they make up the rules depending on how they feel or whatever they want to happen. I couldn’t stand literature; ‘This phrase is perfect, unless I don’t feel like it is, or someone says that it’s not’. In maths, it’s always a direct thing; one plus one is always gonna make two. If you wanted to figure out what ‘x’ is, you follow these steps and ‘x’ is always gonna equal that in these circumstances. You wanna change the circumstances, you always get a definite answer. I like a definite answer.”
One wonders if this Friday will present Austin Trout with his definite answer, or whether his workings will be scrawled across a handful of future bouts? Boxing doesn’t often present ‘definite answers’. It throws up subjectivity, opinion and leaves stories often unfinished. That’s part of its charm and part of its danger. Trout remains sharp, challenging himself by studying calculus books during his camps to expand his knowledge – not quite your regular fighter; not nearly your washed-up, delusional tragi-character.
“What’s after boxing? Boxing. I just wanna go down as a great fighter. I wanna be known as one of the greats of our time, I’d be blessed. I fought some of the best; I went out and did what I had to do,” he said. “People’s opinions don’t bother me, and I don’t care what they think – I care about what I think, and I have a strong faith in god. I believe he still has me here for a reason.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Trout scored a unanimous 10-round decision over Davila in Dubai. No scores were announced.
Main image: Stephanie Trapp/Showtime.